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Rajkot fire: 3 top officials shifted; HC 'doesn't trust' state machinery

Source: PTI   -  Edited By: Hemant Waje
Last updated on: May 28, 2024 01:27 IST
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The Gujarat high court on Monday said it does not have faith in the state machinery which gets into action only after innocent lives are lost, as it pulled up the Rajkot civic body over the purported lapses in functioning of the game zone facility where a massive fire killed 27 persons.

IMAGE: Machines move debris following a fire in a gaming zone in Rajkot, Gujarat, May 26, 2024. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

A special bench of Justices Biren Vaishnav and Devan Desai asked whether the civic body sat over the fire safety orders passed earlier on a public interest litigation (PIL) for 18 months.

The HC was hearing a suo motu PIL on the TRP game zone fire tragedy which occurred on May 25.

A day earlier, the HC termed the incident a prima facie 'man-made disaster'.


Meanwhile, a court in Rajkot on Monday sent three men arrested in connection with the game zone fire.

The state government also transferred Rajkot's police commissioner, two other Indian Police Service officers and the civic chief.

Police Commissioner Raju Bhargava, Additional Commissioner of Police Vidhi Choudhary and Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone-2) Sudhirkumar Desai were transferred without postings, the state home department said in a notification.

The government also transferred Rajkot Municipal Commissioner and IAS officer Anand Patel.

The government has appointed Brajesh Kumar Jha, Special Commissioner of Police, Sector-2, Ahmedabad, as the new Rajkot police commissioner.

Mahendra Bagria, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Kutch-Bhuj (West), will take over Rajkot's new additional commissioner of police, while Jagdish Bangarwa, Superintendent, Central Prison, Vadodara, will be the new deputy commissioner of police.

The government put Rajkot civic chief Anand Patel's service at the disposal of the General Administrative Department for further orders , stated a GAD notification.

Patel has been replaced by DP Desai, who is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) with an additional post of CEO, Gandhinagar Urban Development Authority (GUDA).

Bhavya Verma, Mission Director, Swachh Bharat Mission, Gandhinagar will hold the additional charge of CEO, AUDA and CEO GUDA, the GAD notification said.

In Rajkot, the court of additional judicial magistrate B P Thakar remanded Yuvrajsinh Solanki, Nitin Jain and Rahul Rathod in police custody for two weeks, special public prosecutor Tushar Gokani said.

"The main ground for 14-day remand was that the arrested accused persons are not cooperating with the investigation, they are giving evasive replies to whatever questions are asked and whatever documents are sought from them," Gokani said.

The prosecution also told the court that the main accused in the case are still on the run.

Gokani said that when asked about certain documents, the accused claimed they got burnt in the fire. The main ground for their remand is to seek their cooperation and elicit the truth, he said.

"We told the court that the main accused are on the run, and these accused persons make evasive replies and are not cooperating with the investigating agencies," Gokani said.

He said that accused Solanki tried to put up an act in his bid to express before the court that he was filled with remorse for whatever happened.

"When he entered the court, he tried to project that he had remorse for the incident and everyone felt that he was crying. After five minutes, he was laughing and arguing with the court," Gokani said.

In the high court, the bench asked whether the civic body had turned a blind eye to such a big structure coming up in its vicinity after its lawyer submitted that the TRP Game Zone had not asked for requisite permissions.

The bench noted that all commissioners of the Rajkot municipal corporation from the time the TRP game zone was set up in 2021 till the time of this incident (on May 25) 'should be held accountable for the tragedy that occurred', and directed them to furnish separate affidavits.

On Monday, a counsel pointed out the state government will have to come forward to hold a person accountable, and this calls for drastic steps.

"Who will take such drastic steps? Honestly speaking, we do not have faith in the state machinery now. Four years after orders of this court, directing them, after their assurance, this is the sixth incident that has happened. They only want lives to be lost and then trigger the machinery," the bench said.

To the RMC counsel's submission that the game zone had not applied for requisite permissions, the HC asked whether the civic body was blind to such a big structure having come up under its jurisdiction.

"You were blind to that...this big structure existed, you were not aware of it? What is the corporation's explanation that the whole zone existed for the last two-and-a-half years? What fire safety did they apply for? When ticketing was done, were you aware of the entertainment tax? So we take it that you are completely turning a blind eye to the whole issue?," the bench asked.

The HC also wanted to know as to when the corporation first recognised the existence of the game zone.

"Till then you were completely ignorant of such a structure in the vicinity? Were you not aware of the orders of this court for fire safety (passed) in a PIL? What were you doing then? There are media reports that your municipal commissioner went there at the time of the inauguration. We can't take judicial notice of that fact? For 18 months, what did the corporation do? Sat over it?" the bench asked.

The court noted the game zone was conceptualised in 2021 and continued to operate till May 5, 2024, for over a period of three years, admitted without a fire NOC or any other requisite permissions. On May 9, 2024, the corporation wrote to the owners to furnish fire NOC, it stated in the order.

The question is 'inaction of the authorities in even inspecting the site in light of the regulations', it said and questioned why the civic body didn't inquire about the legality of the structures for 3 years since June 2021.

"On the date when the incident occurred, the game zone did not have NOCs or structural stability certificate, and it was merrily going on in front of the corporation," the bench stated.

Owners of the TRP Game Zone created a fabricated steel frame structure with the boundaries of steel patras, the HC said. It did not have a fire NOC and structural stability certificate, and was asked to provide the same in order to get the benefit of regularisation, the court noted.

'The facts itself are eloquent, therefore, to indicate that the game zone at Rajkot was conceptualised, set up and continued to operate under the very nose of the corporation's officials without the requisite permissions,' it observed in its order.

We refrain at this stage from passing any orders, though we would certainly desire to, to suggest that the officers in question be suspended for dereliction of duty and non-compliance with the direction of this court. We do not do so with the hope to give them a chance, the bench added.

The bench said the structures set up by the game zone operator cannot be branded as 'temporary structures'.

The bench stated even the police department has 'a lot to answer' for allowing the game zone to operate in the vicinity of a local police station with fire NOC permission and directed the Rajkot Police Commissioner to file an affidavit.

The bench noted that the AMC, SMC, and VMC swung into action 'in a typical knee-jerk reaction' after the Rajkot incident and inspected such entertainment zones.

"It was most unfortunate that they acted only after the death of innocent children and young ones," the bench stated.

The HC asked whether the SIT formed by the state will 'sufficiently assuage the sentiments of the families who have repeatedly lost their kith and kin in these tragedies which have obviously been man-made'.

A first information report (FIR) was registered against six partners of the TRP game zone on charges of culpable homicide after the blaze there killed 27 persons, including children, on May 25.

The police have arrested three persons, including two named in the FIR. The name of the third person cropped up during during investigation.

Two partners in Raceway Enterprise, which operated the TRP game zone, Yuvrajsinh Solanki and Rahul Rathod, and the manager of the recreation centre, Nitin Jain, are now in police custody.

The six accused -- proprietor of Dhaval Corporation Dhaval Thakkar, as well as partners of Raceway Enterprises Ashoksinh Jadeja, Kiritsinh Jadeja, Prakashchand Hiran, Yuvrajsinh Solanki, and Rahul Rathod -- had partnered to run the game zone where the fire occurred.

They have been booked under Indian Penal Code sections 304 (culpable homicide), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 337 (causing hurt by an act that endangers the life or personal safety of others), 338 (causing grievous hurt to a person by doing an act that endangers their life or personal safety) and 114 (someone present when offence is committed).

Nine bodies identified through DNA test

Meanwhile, the identities of nine bodies recovered from the TRP Game Zone have been established through DNA analysis, said Gujarat Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghavi on Monday.

Since the bodies were charred beyond recognition, the state government is taking the help of a forensic science lab to identify the victims through DNA profiling.

As the process is time-consuming, several anxious families waiting outside the Rajkot civil hospital to collect the bodies of their kin got into a heated argument with local police on Monday.

Sanghavi visited the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Gandhinagar and announced that it has so far identified nine victims by matching their DNA samples with the samples of their relatives.

"I can understand the anger of the families who have lost their loved ones. FSL is also working round the clock. Entire FSL staff have cancelled their holidays and other travel plans so that all the samples are analysed as early as possible. I have reviewed the progress and Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel is also taking updates every hour," Sanghavi told reporters.

Since it was impossible to collect blood samples from the charred bodies, forensic experts have collected bone samples to match the DNA of the deceased and their relatives, said Sanghavi.

"It would have taken nearly four hours if samples were brought to Gandhinagar by road. To expedite the DNA matching process, the CM ordered the deployment of an air ambulance," he said.

The minister said the process of matching DNA started at FSL early on Sunday morning and a team of 18 forensic experts has been working round to clock since then so that the bodies can be handed over to their relatives after identification.

"This process is lengthy and it involves nine steps. Blood samples of relatives are matched with blood or bone samples of the deceased for matching DNA. Usually, each sample analysis would take nearly 48 hours. Till now, nine dead bodies have been identified. Eight samples are currently under analysis. We will inform the relatives as soon as reports arrive," he added.

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Source: PTI  -  Edited By: Hemant Waje© Copyright 2024 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.